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Recommended: Gigatron

a computer w/o a microprocessor


My vintage computer collection

I started collecting computers back in the late 80s. At that time, I had somewhat outgrown the home computers of the day. But Macintoshes or Suns were way to expensive. But as I found out, you could buy very interesting "Old Iron" - at that time, five year old systems - for next to nothing. And because of that, you could tinker with them all you wanted. The cost of blowing something up was limited and fixing the damage was interesting too...

The above scroll bar is a complete(ish) overview of my current collection. Click on a micro to see it in full-resolution glory. I would like to thank and for their kind permission to use some of their photos.

There are quite a few good sites already with near-encyclopedic data on vintage computers. On the four pages introduced below, I just wrote some personal commentary on the historically most interesting machines in my collection. Maybe that gives some big-picture overview and some historical perspective. Or maybe you will just find it an interesting trip down through memory lane.

Part 1: Early Machines

The story of microcomputers more or less starts in 1975, shortly after Intel introduced the first microprocessors. Systems using the Intel 4004 and 8008 CPUs are very scarce - and not in my collection. They were quickly followed by the MITS Altair and IMSAI 8080 systems: primitive but expandable through their S-100 explansion buses. This page takes you through the incredibly rapid development towards fully functional CP/M business computers.

Part 2: 8-Bit Home Computers

Somewhere around 1980, cheap computers with limited expansion capabilities but nice graphics started to appear in the living room. For the next five years, a lot of progress in the microcomputing world was concentrated on this home computing area. And these machines are most recognisable for most people: The Commodore 64, the Apple II, or the Sinclair ZX 81.

Part 3: 16-Bitters of the Mid-Eighties

In 1981, IBM sent a shock wave through the industry: it introduced its IBM PC. Developed in a hurry as the gaint firm had misunderestimated the emerging microcomputer market, the resulting IBM PC was a truly awful machine. This had two consequences: the new 'standard' of MS-DOS computers focused on compatibility at the expense of innovation, creating something of a 'lost decade' for office users. But, that did give pioneers like the Macintosh and the Amiga a niche to explore computing concepts of the future. This pages describes their story.

Part 4: Unix

Unix doesn't really fit into the timeline of the previous three chapters. Initially released in 1969, it actually predates the microcomputer. But in so far as Unix played a role in the 1980s and 90s, this page describes some interesting Unix boxes - and explains why they took off after the proprietary designs of the 16-bitters had run out of steam by around 1990.

The pages above pretty much cover the storyline beginning with the earliest microcomputers to the point where standard Windows machines ruled the world from the early 90s on. Yet, the story of early computing was not quite over yet. On the sidelines of the computer industry, some interesting niche machines kept popping up. And in the last decade, hobbyists re-discovered 'homebrewing': the art & science of building your own computer from a circuit board and a bag of chips...

Part 5: Weird but Wonderful Micros

There are historically important machines, and then there are machines that were just very nice, very good or (in a loose sense of the word) very cute. This page describes some of the less-important machines that history passed by, but that I really like and care about: the wonderful Psion Series 5, or the weird Cambridge Z88 for instance. Or the Yodobashi Formula-1, a CP/M workhorse from Japan.

Part 6: Homebrewing

Long after the era of 8-bit computers had passed by, nostalgic Homebrewers started exploring what they could do with the old silicon. And they came up with some really interesting designs. Best of all, this is an area where even non-engineering types can play an active role in the Trailing Edge of Technology.

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